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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Concert Review: Finishing What He Started

Alan Gilbert conducts Sibelius and Mendelssohn.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Philharmonic from upstage with Alan Gilbert at the controls.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2015 The New York Philharmonic.
2015 has been a year of transition for Alan Gilbert. The music director of the New York Philharmonic announced back in February that next season would be his last at the helm of the orchestra. However, Tuesday night saw him back on the podium at David Geffen Hall, leading the orchestra in a program of Mendelssohn and Sibelius. The latter is greatest composer in the history of Finland, and 2015 marked his 150th birthday.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Concert Review: The Unquiet Dead

Town Hall witnesses the long-awaited resurrection of P.D.Q. Bach.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Peter Schickele (left) demonstrates Steinway/Everlast's Piano Glove.
Photo from Bucklesweet Media © 2015 Peter Schickele.
Mention the name Peter Schickele in a circle of New York concertgoers and you will be met with a smile, a chuckle, and perhaps a roll of the eyes. (Unless they're young, in which case they'll need an explanation.)  Mr. Schickele, a distinguished teacher and composer based in New York, has spent half a century moonlighting as the misguided musical paleontologist whose lone discovery is the justifiably forgotten output of P.D.Q. Bach, the last and most misbegotten of Johann Sebastian Bach's children.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Concert Review: Keeping the Faith

The Philharmonic resurrects Handel's Messiah.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jane Glover.
Photo by Ken Howard for Chicago Music of the Baroque.
Ever since the twelve-year music directorship of the late Kurt Masur, the oratorio has resumed pride of place at the New York Philharmonic. That was confirmed last week when Jane Glover, the eminent British musicologist and conductor known to New Yorkers from her opera performances at Juilliard, made her debut with the orchestra conducting this year's run of Handel's Messiah.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Concert Review: No Country for Forgotten Men

The ASO explores Russia's lost Jewish composers.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Big stick: the composer Anton Rubinstein on the podium. His work was played
Thursday night by the American Symphony Orchestra.
Painting by Ilya Repin.
The concert hall music of Russia has a shorter history than most, as no major composers emerged in that land until the 19th century. And yet, there are as many forgotten and neglected composers from Russia as there are trees in its vast taiga forests. On Thursday night, Leon Botstein chose four Jewish composers from Russia as the focus of a Carnegie Hall concert by the American Symphony Orchestra: Aleksandr Krein, Anton Rubinstein, Mikhail Gnesin and Maximillian Steinberg.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Obituary: Kurt Masur 1927-2015

The German conductor led the New York Philharmonic for 11 years.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Kurt Masur at the helm of the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2015 The New York Philharmonic.
Kurt Masur, who led the New York Philharmonic as music director from 1991 to 2002 died earlier today in Greenwich CT. The cause of death was reported in the New York Times as "complications from Parkinson's disease."  The maestro was 88. Performances in later life were affected by a notable tremor in his hands. His passing follows a hospitalization after he fell off a podium while conducting the Orchestre National de France.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What Beethoven Means (to Some)

A reflection on the composer's 245th birthday.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Beethoven said it best.
Image from the ironically named
The composer  Ludwig van Beethoven towers over the world of classical music, a colossus even though the man himself stood about five-four. Janus-like, his music looks forward and back at once, drawing on the rigid classical structures of the 18th century and looking ahead to the wild Romantic experimentation of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. But why is this composer, with his nine symphonies, thirty-two piano sonatas and one lone opera held in such high esteem? On the occasion of his 245th birthday, Superconductor seeks some of the reasons that Beethoven will forever be immortal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Concert Review: The Power of the Collective

The Manhattan Chamber Players' Holiday Concert.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Members of the Manhattan Chamber Players (with artistic director Luke Fleming
in the red tie) looking for a place to play. Photo by Sophie Zhai © 2015 Manhattan Chamber Players.

The arrival of a new chamber music ensemble in New York is an occasion for celebration, for virtuosity and for its members to show the concert-going music-loving public what they can do. That opportunity was presented on Tuesday night when the Manhattan Chamber Players gave their second concert...ever in the Recital Hall at Baruch College. (Their first was last week at Le Poisson Rouge.) A collective that formed earlier this year, the MCP is formed from members of other still extant ensembles: a large circle of friends and colleagues who convene for the purposes of playing pure music.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Do You Hear What We Hear?

A quick Superconductor guide to holiday concerts.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Homer Simpson does some last minute shopping.
Image from Tis the Fifteenth Season © 2004 Gracie Films/20th Century Fox.
The holidays are in full festive swing at Superconductor and we are proud to present this quick guide to music being made in the late December here in New York City. So here's ten concerts, light on the gingerbread for when you want to hear something other than Handel's Messiah. (Don't worry our elves start off with a recommendation for Messiah also.)

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Barber of Seville

The Met revives the Barber in "family-friendly" English.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She's a vipera: Isabel Leonard returns as Rosina in The Barber of Seville.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Rossini repackaged for the kids: with the most famous comedy in opera trimmed down to a lean 90 minutes. This is the Met's special holiday presentation of Gioachino Rossini's Barber of Seville with the radiant Isabel Leonard returning to the role of Rosina.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Opera Review: An Overwhelming Sense of Gilt

The Dangerous Liasons bows at MSM.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Comte de Valmont's favorite piece of furniture in The Dangerous Liasons.

Since its publication in 1782, the French novel Les Liasons Dangereuses has had many incarnations. It has spawned six film adaptations, a hit Broadway show and kept corset-makers in business. In 1994, composer Conrad Susa and librettist Philip Littell turned it into an opera: The Dangerous Liasons  which premiered in San Francisco with an all-star cast. Mr. Susa's version  arrived this weekend at the Manhattan School of Music, with three performances (featuring two seperate casts) at Borden Auditorium.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Concert Review: Alone in the Dark

The experience of Goldberg at the Armory.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Marina Abramović re-invents the concert experience with Goldberg
at the Park Avenue Armory. Photo by James Ewing © 2015 Park  Avenue Armory.
Off came my wristwatch, a trusty concert-going companion of many years. My iPhone was turned off and put in my bag next to my iPad, also off. Bag and grey Marillion fleece jacket were put in locker No. 42 and I locked it and took the key. I stood in line with other concertgoers, some there for the music: Bach's Goldberg Variations, others for the auteur of our evening: performance and conceptual artist Marina Abramović . The bringing together of these forces is called Goldberg, and is Ms. Abramović's latest stage work.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Essay: The Critical Ear

What do reviewers listen for at a classical music concert?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The protest against silence from The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.
Art by Jules Feiffer © 1961 Random House LLC.
You see us at the Philharmonic, at Carnegie Hall, at chamber music performances, and at the opera. We sit there sometimes scribbling in ugly notebooks, sometimes perusing progam notes or musical scores, sometimes with eyes closed, heads bowed in some sort of deep communion with the spirits of the creators of the music being performed.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Opera Review: Bloody Deeds in Brooklyn

LoftOpera takes on Britten's The Rape of Lucretia.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Detail from Lucretia by Rembrandt.
The chamber operas of Benjamin Britten are works of great  dramatic power, demanding a tight ensemble and a cast that can act as well as sing. All those quantities are present in LoftOpera’s first production of “The Rape of Lucretia," seen Saturday night in a temporary performance space created, seemingly out of thin air at the event space/art gallery 501 Union. This production marks this bold young company’s first staging of a Britten opera and its first show in English.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Concert Review: Making Tracks in Brooklyn

Julia Wolfe's Steel Hammer rolls into BAM.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Bang on A Can All Stars and the SITI Ensemble perform Steel Hammer. 
Eric Berryman (standing, right, with hammer) is John Henry.
Photo © 2015 the Krannert Center and courtesy Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The composer Julia Wolfe is one of the most important voices in American music. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her oratorio Anthracite Fields she combines Appalachian folk music, minimalist techniques and the power of the human voice to create a unique American sound, rock-ribbed, raw-boned and bursting with vitality. On Wednesday night, the Bang On A Can All-Stars and the SITI Company brought the New York premiere of the fully staged version of her first oratorio Steel Hammer to the BAM Harvey Theater in the waning days of this year's NextWave Festival.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La Donna del Lago

Joyce DiDonato reprises the title role in this Rossini rarity.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Scotland the Brave: Joyce DiDonato shines in La Donna del Lago.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met continues its Rossini revival with one of the bona fide hits of last year: La Donna del Lago ("The Lady of the Lake"). Paul Curran's production bowed in 2013 at Santa Fe. At the Met, the magnificent natural vistas of New Mexico are replaced with scenery. (It was either that or knock out the back of the opera house and give the audience a backdrop of Amsterdam Avenue.)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

They're Back From the Dead

And they're ready for Tosca: The New York City Opera Renaissance.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Original art from Iron Maiden's No Prayer for the Dying.
Painting by Derek Riggs © 1990 Iron Maiden/CBS Records.
The above headline suits the giddy anticipation that some opera lovers in New York have regarding the resurrection of the New York City Opera, the long-running company that bit the dust in 2013. In stories reported yesterday in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, it was announced this week that the New York City Opera Renaissance will move forward with its plans to bring the historic company out of bankruptcy and get back to the business of putting operas on the stage.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Concert Review: Meet the Door Busters

Andris Nelsons and the BSO on Black Friday.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sale of the Century: Andris Nelsons (left) and Yefim Bronfman storm through Bartók.
Photo by Winslow Townson for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The day after Thanksgiving is dreaded by most Americans as when bargain-hunters swarm the shopping centers in search of material goods to stuff under trees. However, Symphony Hall in Boston offers an oasis in all this commerce with an annual post-Thanksgiving performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Fledermaus

The Met revives the one about the guy in the bat costume. (Not Bruce Wayne.)
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Clock's already ticking: the dancers of Die Fledermaus.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera resuscitates its 2013 production of Johann Strauss Jr.'s most popular operetta Die Fledermaus. This is the frothy Viennese comedy: the story of a guy determined to cheat on his wife, a saucy maid out to have a good time, and the Italian tenor who winds up getting (accidentally) thrown in jail. The only hitch: a lurching, unfunny English libretto, which is a step down from the German original.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Concert Review: The Mountain of Madness

Daniil Trifonov closes out Rachmaninoff at the Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The young gun: Daniil Trifonov is set to take over the world
...and just joined the board of the New York Philharmonic.
Photo © 2015 Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Group.
It's been a good month for piano aficionados at the New York Philharmonic, where newly minted board member Daniil Trifonov is wrapping up a three-week overview of the career of Sergei Rachmaninoff, the tall, dour Russian virtuoso whose piano music combines lyricism and technical challenges in a way that makes his four concertos the equivalent of an expedition to conquer the Himalayas.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Opera Review: The World Has Gone Mad

A modern double bill opens Juilliard Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"HALLO-HALLO!" The Drummer (Amanda Lynn Bottoms, right)
announces the Emperor's intentions in a scene from Der Kaiser von Atlantis.
Photo by Nan Merriman © 2015 The Juilliard School.
As I write this, our world as we know it is under siege. In Paris, religious fanatics fire machine-guns into crowds, punishing people for daring to go out-of-doors. Here in America, capitalist fanatics engage in racist rhetoric in  an attempt to become the leader of the free world. It is apt, then that the Juilliard Opera chose to open its 2015 season with a double-barreled blast of cynicism: Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tirésias and Ullmann's Der Kaiser von Atlantis.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Prevent Empty Seats with Advertising!

Announcing our LOW Holiday Rates!

The holidays are here and what better way to show that you love your arts organization than by buying a reasonably priced banner or tile on Superconductor. We are once more offering reduced rates on our banner and tile advertising for the two weeks leading up to Christmas: with a special Messiah discount that' too hot to Handel!

Superconductor by Paul J. Pelkonen is a bespoke classical music and opera publication offering concert reviews, opera reviews, opinion, music commentary, news items and the occasional April Fool's post. Written and published by New York-based music journalist and critic Paul J. Pelkonen, Superconductor has drawn recognition for its coverage of major arts organizations in New York City and elsewhere.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Concert Review: Underdog Day Afternoon

Week 2 of Rachmaninoff at the Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The jaywalking virtuoso: Daniil Trifonov on his way to work.
Photo © 2015 The New York Philharmonic.
As a composer and touring soloist, Sergei Rachmaninoff was respected for his place as the last of the Russian romantic and loved for his fearsome piano technique. Although he remains one of the most popular composers of the 20th century, some of his vast catalogue remains off the radar of the music-loving public. This week, the New York Philharmonic sought to correct that oversight with the second set of concerts in their ongoing three-week celebration dubbed Rachmaninoff: A Philharmonic Festival.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Concert Review: The Duel of the Fates

The Berlin Philharmonic plays Beethoven at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Simon Rattle leads the Berlin Philharmonic.
Photo by Sebastien Grébille © 2014 The Berlin Philharmonic.
The Berlin Philharmonic has long enjoyed a sterling reputation as the crown jewel of German orchestras, helped by its location in that nation's capital and its hefty recorded catalogue under a succession of legendary music directors. Sir Simon Rattle is getting ready to wrap up his term as the orchestra's leader. And what better way to start his farewell than with all nine Beethoven symphonies, presented in a five-night marathon on the hallowed stage of Carnegie Hall? The Berliners took the stage to warm applause, with a packed house gathered to hear this venerable orchestra in the bright acoustic of Stern Auditorium.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La bohème

The timeless and much-repaired Zeffirelli production is back for three runs.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Upper West Side real estate. Sleeps four. Act I of La bohème.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.

To its credit, the Metropolitan Opera is pretty good about stocking its frequent revivals of La Bohème with solid casts of singers who do a wonderful job with Puccini's too-familiar score. This year's revival features three seperate casts, with Rámon Vargas and Bryan Hymel each taking on the role of the ardent poet Rodolfo who falls head-over-notebook for the seamstress Mímí in belle epoque Paris.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Concert Review: Magic In His Fingers

Daniil Trifonov opens the Philharmonic's Rachmaninoff festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
You gotta say yes to another excess: Daniil Trifonov.
Photo by Dario Acosta for Deutsche Grammophon/UMG 
Although he is just 24, Daniil Trifonov has established himself at the forefront of an impressive crop of pianists, young Steinway jockeys determined to return old-school virtuosity to the concert hall. On Wednesday night, Mr. Trifonov opened a three-week festival stand with the New York Philharmonic. The focus: the music of Russian composer and virtuoso Sergei Rachmaninoff, with three different conductors scheduled to take the podium in David Geffen Hall.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Opera Review: A Fatal Heroine Overdose

A new Lulu tears up the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

lu·lu: ˈlo͞olo͞o/ noun (informal), noun: lulu; plural noun: lulus
1. an outstanding example of a particular type of person or thing. Usage: "as far as nightmares went, this one was a lulu"
Smoking hot: Marliss Petersen as Lulu in the new Met production.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Alban Berg's Lulu is an opera that lives up to the above definition. For his second and final opera Berg set two plays (Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora) by Franz Wedekind and set them to a dizzying score that uses a wide range of techniques: chromaticism, serialism, atonality and even jazz to a kaleidoscopic rush through the life of a femme fatale who destroys every man and woman who crosses her path. This new Met production (seen Monday night) is the second in the history of this illustrious company, who have made this kinky, knotty opera something of a specialty.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Concert Review: The Intimate Mozart

The New York Philharmonic goes all classicist.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The young composer uses Ultra-Brite™.
An all-Mozart program by a major symphony orchestra is an unusual undertaking in that it uses a proportionately small number of musicians playing on the vast stage of a venue like David Geffen Hall. For last week's concert, Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic chose an unusual program: setting aside the usual fare (opera overtures, piano concertos and symphonies) for lesser known works from the composer's enormous catalogue.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Opera Review: She's Bigger Than Life

Angela Gheorghiu brings her Tosca to the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The odd couple: Angela Gheorghiu (left) menaced by Željko Lučić in Tosca.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
A revival of the Metropolitan Opera's ugly and unloved Luc Bondy staging of Puccini's Tosca is not a cause to celebrate. However the appearance of Angela Gheorghiu in her first performances of the title role in New York City, is. On Monday night, Ms. Gheorghiu sang the second and last of her two Met appearances this season, in the title role of Puccini's most violent opera.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Concert Review: The 19-ton Orchestra

Christine Brewer and Paul Jacobs at Alice Tully Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
In recital: soprano Christine Brewer sang at Alice Tully Hall on Sunday.
Photo courtesy Lincoln Center.
Of the keyboard instruments, the pipe organ is the one that can approximate not only the sound of a full symphony orchestra, but the unique tone of the human voice as well. On Sunday afternoon, dramatic soprano Christine Brewer and organist Paul Jacobs gave a concert in Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. This performance, part of the 2015 White Light Festival, paired Ms. Brewer's big, potent instrument with the Alice Tully Hall Organ.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Opera Review: Lost Vegas

<b>The Metropolitan Opera bets on Rigoletto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tapped out: George Gagnidze is a hapless protagonist in the Met's "Vegas" Rigoletto.
Photo by Richard Termine © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.

"You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." --Kenny Rogers, The Gambler.

The Metropolitan Opera's current production of Verdi's Rigoletto transposes opera's action to Las Vegas in the 1960s. In director Michael Mayer's mind, the Duke is a cabaret crooner, surrounded by a "rat pack" of buddies in snazzy lamé jackets. Rigoletto is his opening act, warming up the crowd with insult comedy. The Duke's palace is a casino-hotel, where the outside world exists only behind heavy green curtains. When it bowed in 2013, Mr. Mayer's vision of the opera seemed fresh. However, as Wednesday night's performance showed, this show's luck is running out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Lulu

William Kentridge re-imagines Alban Berg's visionary, violent opera. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Isn't she lovely: Marliss Petersen is the femme fatale in Lulu.
Photo by Kristian Schuller © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
One of the most eagerly anticipated new productions of the 2015 season is Lulu, staged by the South African artist and director William Kentridge. Mr. Kentridge's previous effort for the Met, The Nose met with critical and audience acclaim. Can he do the same for the sordid story of Lulu, the female "earth spirit" who leaves a trail of broken hearts and dead bodies in her wake?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Concert Review: His Last Bow...For Now

Valery Gergiev's last LSO tour stops at Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Protest? What protest? Valery Gergiev returned to Lincoln Center on Friday night.
Photo by Alberto Venzago © 2015 Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Valery Gergiev is a colorful and divisive figure. Colorful for his podium idiosyncracies: fluttering hands, tiny batons and a knack for delivering performances that always seem right on the edge of falling apart. Divisive: for some of those same reasons--plus his close association with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, one that repeatedly draws placard-carrying protesters from New York's Ukrainian community.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Concert Review: Brahms, More Brahms, Et Cetera

The New York Philharmonic know.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Brahmsian: Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2015 The New York Philharmonic.
The modern symphony orchestra cannot survive without the music of Johannes Brahms.

On Friday morning, the New York Philharmonic and guest conductor Semyon Bychkov gave the third of four concerts this week focused almost entirely on Brahms' music. The performance opened with a modern work: the Brahms-Fantasie by contemporary German composer Detlev Glanert, followed by two major works from opposite ends of Brahms' career: the Double Concerto (which would be his last major orchestral work) and the First of his four symphonies.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Concert Review: The Prodigal and the Exile

The BSO ends its epic stand at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Prince Alexander (Nikolai Cherkasov) prepares for battle in a scene from Alexander Nevsky.
Photo © 1938 Mosfilm.
Under the baton of new music director Andris Nelsons, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has, this week, treated Carnegie Hall to some of the most exciting performances of this still young concert season. On Thursday night, conductor and players went for the throat with a thrilling one-two program of Prokofiev’s Aleksandr Nevsky and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, a daunting program for any orchestra worth their salt.

Concert Review: The Best of All Possible Worlds

Jean-Yves Thibaudet at the NJSO.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The always well-dressed Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
Photo by Hilary Scott for the Tanglewood Festival © 2015 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra exists in perpetual shadow of the classical music scene in nearby New York. And yet, those attending the orchestra’s concerts (held at NJPAC in downtown Newark and an ever-rotating series of regional arts centers and theaters in the Garden State) hear strong, snappy playing, bold brass and a gritty work ethic that matches its blue-collar home state.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Opera Review: The Revenge Business

Christine Goerke’s Elektra rocks Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
So her brother's an axe murderer:: Christine Goerke (in red) sings Elektra in concert
 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra thundering behind her.
Photo by Stu Rosner © 2015 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Richard Strauss’ Elektra is a 100-minute roller coaster, an opera where bigger-than-life mythological characters race through a collapsing house intent on murdering each other with a bloody axe. On Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall, it was the perfect concert vehicle for the rejuvinated Boston Symphony Orchestra, their sophomore music director Andris Nelsons and its leading lady: soprano Christine Goerke.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Concert Review: Happiness is the Road

The Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The most happy fella: Andris Nelsons.
Photo © 2014 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night, opening a three concert stand under the baton of their vibrant nnew music director Andris Nelsons. Tuesday’s program featured new music from composer Sebastian Currier and then this orchestra’s strength: square-shouldered and unpretentious performances of Beethoven and Brahms.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Rigoletto

A new cast takes over the Met's "Vegas" Verdi revue.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Shake it baby: Piotr Beczala goes Vegas in Rigoletto.
Photo © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
This year's revival features Simon Keenlyside's return to the Met stage in the title role. He'll be relieved by Željko Lučić who sang this production when it premiered in 2013. The Duke will be sung by original lounge lizard Piotr Beczala, who will eventually be replaced by Stephen Costello. The key role of Gilda--Rigoletto's treasured daughter and the latest object of the Duke's depredations--is sung by Olga Peretyatko, who made a splash a few seasons back in I Puritani. Nadine Sierra sings the later performances.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Concert Review: The Comet Returns

Maurizio Pollini plays with the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Smokin': Maurizio Pollini lit up the Philharmonic on Friday night.
Photo © 2015 Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Group.
Most New York Philharmonic programs during any given concert season last two, three, even four nights, giving New Yorkers a chance to hear their hometown orchestra at whatever time is convenient to their busy schedules. However, Friday night's program of Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Chopin was one night only. The reason: it marked the first and only appearance by guest pianist Maurizio Pollini this season--and his first performance with the orchestra in twenty years.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Concert Review: He Died For His Art

The Ullmann Project launches at Merkin Concert Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Doomed genius: Viktor Ullmann in 1924.
Image © The Arnold Schoenberg Center, Vienna.
Some composers are remembered more for the circumstances of their demise rather than the extraordinary achievements of their respective lives. Of those, Viktor Ullmann stands out. A songwriter, a piano composer and a creator of opera, he looked death in the face and laughed, creating the anti-Nazi opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis while interred in the Theresienstadt prison camp from 1941 to 1944. A fairy tale where Death takes a much-needed vacation in the face of total war, it was quickly banned. Ullmann was then killed at Auschwitz.

Concert Review: In the Time of Their Singing

Eric Owens curates In Their Footsteps at the Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Eric Owens (left) and Laquita Mitchell sing "Bess, you is my woman now"
at the New York Philharmonic as Thomas Wilkins (right) conducts.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2015 The New York Philharmonic.
Eric Owens has become an unlikely star of this young century, anchoring the grandest operas with his rock-solid bass-baritone and powerful, passionate delivery. This year he is Artist-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic. As the first of his duties, he assembled In Their Footsteps: Great African American Singers and Their Legacy, a concert celebrating the long history of African-American singing in the United States heard Wednesday night at David Geffen Hall.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Concert Review: Of Trolls, Swans and Indeterminate Obstacles

The Philadelphia Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
That's right! Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Photo © 2015 by Chris Lee.
This was a concert that almost didn't happen.

On Monday night, the Philadelphia Orchestra agreed to a new one-year contract for its musicians, just one night before they were scheduled to play their first concert of the 2015 season at Carnegie Hall. With a 3% pay raise on the books and light at the end of a decade marked by bankruptcy and labor disputes, the ensemble arrived at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, to offer a refreshing if old-fashioned program of Grieg, Bartók and Sibelius under music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Tosca

Yes, it's the Met's Luc Bondy production...thankfully for the last time.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
With furniture like this, you might jump too.
Act II of Tosca in the Met's current Luc Bondy production.
Photo © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Add together four sopranos, three tenors, two conductors and one of the most godforsaken opera productions in recent memory at the Metropolitan Opera, and whaddya get? Tosca! With a new production (by Sir David McVicar) scheduled to premiere on Dec. 31, 2017, this is the final, flying leap for the Luc Bondy version of Puccini's most blood-curdling opera. The title role will be split four ways, between sopranos Oksana Dyka, Angela Gheorghiu, Maria Guleghina and  Liuydmila Monastyrska.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Opera Review: To Venus and Back

Wagner's Tannhäuser returns to the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Meeting Venus: the goddess (Michelle DeYoung, left) seduces Tannhäuser
(Johan Botha, right) in the first act of Richard Wagner's opera Tannhäuser. 
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
On Thursday night, the Metropolitan Opera revealed its lone Wagner offering of the current season, a revival of the company's worn but much loved 1977 production of Tannhäuser from the team of Otto Schenk and Gunther Schneider-Siemssen. The problem child among Wagner's thirteen operas, Tannhäuser is the story of an itinerant minstrel knight (the title character, played here by tenor Johan Botha) caught between his love for the saintly Elisabeth and his erotic obsession with the goddess Venus and her underground pleasure palace, a plot element that led Wagner to consider naming the work Der Venusberg, or "The Mountain of Venus." Eventually, good taste prevailed.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Concert Review: This Used To Be Their Playground

The New York Philharmonic returns to Carnegie Hall for its 2015 gala.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Evgeny Kissin played the opening gala of Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Bette Marshall for Sony Classics.
Opening night at Carnegie Hall is a festive occasion each year. This year, the famed venue turns 125 years old, and celebrated that birthday with a program that looked back upon golden moments in its venerated history. The guests though were from up the street: the New York Philharmonic. America's oldest orchestra called the Carnegie stage home for 70 years before upping roots to Lincoln Center.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Five Scariest Scenes in Opera

We look at harrowing moments in honor of Halloween.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The man who came to dinner: John Tomlinson as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni.
Image from the 1984 film Amadeus © The Saul Zaentz Company/Orion Pictures.
Opera is more than just pretty voices against an orchestra: it is an art form that has fascinated listeners for five centuries. And ever since Monteverdi's >i>L'Incoronazione di Poppea
, composers have gleefully shown bloodshed, murder, rape and (in the case of Hansel und Gretel) cannibalism.
In honor of the month of October and the approach of Halloween Superconductor offers a list of five operatic moments that make us clutch our arm-rests: the most nail-biting, terrifying, out-right harrowing scenes from five famous operas.

(Note to our readers: If you haven't seen Elektra, Rigoletto or Tosca yet (and they're all on the Metropolitan Opera's schedule this season) beware: there be spoilers after the jump.)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Recordings Review: Building A Better Pyramid

Antonio Pappano's new studio Aida from Rome.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Studio warrior: Jonas Kaufmann recording Aida in Rome.
Photo © 2015 Warner Brothers Classics.
The classical recording industry of the 21st century is a pale reflection of that which went before: an era where recordings are issued to little fanfare in the non-music press and even the record store is an anachronism in the urban landscape. So it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the newly merged Warner Brothers Classics had recorded and would issue a new studio recording of Verdi's Aida in an era where cost cuts and singers' schedules dictate that most operas are now recorded at live performances. A perennial and much-loved show at the most munificent opera companies, Aida is also a small-scale love story and an intimate family drama. That combination has proved to be an elusive one to capture on disc.

Friday, October 2, 2015

He-Dropped a Lulu, It Was His Baby

James Levine pulls out, we don't mean maybe.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She's dangerous: Marliss Peterson's Lulu has claimed her first victim.
Photo by Kristian Schuller © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera's new production of Lulu, the Alban Berg tale of a femme fatale who leaves a trail of bodies in her wake has claimed its first victim: music director James Levine.

Concert Review: A Covey of Concertos

The New York Philharmonic plays Brahms and Marc Neikrug.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A man and his instrument: Emanuel Ax at the piano.
The early weeks of this young New York Philharmonic season are heavily focused on the concerto, that peculiar yet popular form that pits a solo artist against an orchestra in a struggle of will and ability. This week’s program featured two pieces by Johannes Brahms (the Tragic Overture and the Second Piano Concerto) flanking the world premiere of a new work (commissioned by the Philharmonic in 2014) by contemporary composer Marc Neikrug.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gotham Chamber Opera Folds

Company ceases operations, effective today.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

It ended not with a bang, or a whimper, but with a press release.

The Gotham Chamber Opera, which was among the front rank of New York opera companies not based at Lincoln Center, has closed its doors and ceased operations.

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